By LeRae Haynes
Scott Fraser, NDP MLA for Pacific Rim-Alberni and BC Aboriginal Affairs Critic, was in Williams Lake yesterday, meeting with the Ulkatcho Band and the Tsilhqot’in National Government before attending a meeting with the BC Timber Supply Committee presentation at Pioneer Complex.
He said that he attended the BC Timber Supply Special Committee presentation to ‘bear witness’ to First Nations’ submissions to the committee--a group that includes John Rustad, Liberal MLA and Norm Macdonald, NDP MLA.
With both First Nations groups, he said that what he heard in his meetings with them earlier in the day was frustration that there has been no meaningful government consultation with them when it comes to resources.
“When a big application comes in, many First Nations groups simply don’t have the resources to sort through the paperwork. The minute that application comes in the clock starts ticking. These are complex applications with great potential impact. The bands have rights on the land and responsibility to protect it—responsibility that they take seriously,” he explained.
“What should happen is government-to-government consultation. The Ministers have signed agreements with First Nations groups and they are not living up to them. The Ulkatcho Nation, in particular, is afraid that, even with long-term, sustainable plans, other applications will run right over them.”
He stated that adequate consultation is an ethical and moral requirement and also a legal requirement.
“It’s also a matter of respect,” he added. “The BC government has endless resources from taxpayers, and can make a decision and say, ‘you don’t like it? Take us to court.’
“Many First Nations communities have some pretty desperate situations on their reserves, and the longer a situation continues, the more likely that they will come to the table with less-than-ideal terms,” he continued. “With a lot of the big applications that come in, if you don’t respond within 30 days, it’s an automatic ‘yes’ for whatever than corporation or government wants to do.”
He explained that there are other land users and public groups concerned about some of these issues, and said that the government’s job is to represent the people. “It’s an arrogant government, indeed, that ignores the will of the people,” he noted.
“My hope is that the members of the Timber Supply committee, which includes three opposition members, listen with an open mind. I also hope that the views and presentations by First Nations groups will be foremost in the committee’s recommendations and that the government will take them seriously.”
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